Societies don't have to be secular to be modern
An interview with Francis Fukuyama, author of 'The End of History and the Last Man.'
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Clearly, that big surge toward democracy went as far as it could. Now there is a backlash against it in some places. But that doesn't mean the larger trend is not still toward democracy.Skip to next paragraph
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Gardels: The main contending argument against the "end of history" was offered by Sam Huntington. Far from ideological convergence, he argued, we were facing a "clash of civilizations" in which culture and religion would be the main points of conflict after the cold war. For many, 9/11 and its aftermath confirmed his thesis of a clash between Islam and the West. To what extent was his argument valid?
Fukuyama: The differences between Huntington and I have been somewhat overstated. I wrote a book called "Trust" in which I argue that culture is one of the key factors that determines economic success and the possibilities of prosperity. So I don't deny the critical role of culture. But, overall, the question is whether cultural characteristics are so rooted that there is no chance of universal values or a convergence of values. That is where I disagree.
Huntington's argument was that democracy, individualism, and human rights are not universal, but reflections of culture rooted in Western Christendom. While that is true historically, these values have grown beyond their origins. They've been adopted by societies that come out of very different cultural traditions. Look at Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Indonesia.
Societies rooted in different cultural origins come to accept these values not because the US does it, but because it works for them. It provides a mechanism for government accountability. It provides societies with a way to get rid of bad leaders when things go wrong. That is a huge advantage of democratic societies that someplace like China doesn't have. China, at the moment, is blessed with competent leaders. But before that they had Mao. There is nothing to prevent another Mao in the future without some form of democratic accountability.
Problems of corruption or poor governance are much easier to solve if you have a democracy. For enduring prosperity and success, institutionalized, legal mechanisms of change and accountability are essential.
Gardels: In an earlier book, "Political Order in Changing Societies," Huntington argued that Westernization and modernization were not identical. He thought modernization – an effective state, urbanization, breakdown of primary kinship groups, inclusive levels of education, market economies, and a growing middle class – were quite possible without a society becoming Western in terms of a liberal secular culture or democratic norms.
We see this today from Singapore to China, from Turkey to Malaysia and even Iran. Any observant visitor to China these days can see that beneath the logos of Hyatt and Citigroup the soul of old Confucius is stirring, with its authoritarian bent. In Turkey, we see an Islamist-rooted party running a secular state, battling to allow women to wear head scarves in public universities.
In other words, isn't "non-Western modernization" as likely a path ahead as Westernization through globalization?
Fukuyama: For me, there are three key components of political modernization. First, the modernization of the state as a stable, effective, impersonal institution that can enforce rules across complex societies. This was Huntington's focus. But there are two other components of modernization in my view. Second, the rule of law so that the state itself is constrained in its actions by a preexisting body of law that is sovereign. In other words, a ruler or ruling party cannot just do whatever he or it decides. Third is some form of accountability of the powers that be.